China Beat Archive



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March 31, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright March 31, 2009. Used by permission.


Well, I don’t think I’m actually quite as bad when it comes to giving reporters their due as the title I’ve selected for this post suggests, as I have recently gone on record praising a variety of journalists based in China. Still, the ones I typically say the best things about are people who have a long-term commitment to the country (though I’ve been critical of some of these, of course), while the ones I most often pick on for things like missing important aspects of a story or failing to go to the best possible specialists for quotes are those who, like Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times, end up in China while cycling through different foreign bureaus (in her case, based on a very quick web search, it seems she was in theMiddle East and Seoul before heading to Beijing). And true to form, when I started reading Demick’s “Clocks Square Off in China” in this morning’s paper, where it was given the excellent front-page “Column One” feature spot (saved for longer than usual and often somewhat personal pieces) that remains one of the best things about the Times, I was initially on my guard, looking for flaws. I quickly had to admit, however, that the piece handles very well indeed a couple of fascinating issues: the fact that China could easily have five or six time zones, yet officially all clocks are supposed to keep Beijing time, and the cultural divides that tend to separate Uighur and Han residents in this part of China’s “Far West” (as the region is sometimes dubbed–including in the retitled online version of Demick’s article).

I am sure that there are terms used or ideas broached in the article that could be picked apart by still more specialized readers than me–someone who tends to focus on a city, Shanghai, that lies far to the East of Xinjiang and someone who has not done much on either issues of ethnicity or, for that matter, on what clocks read, aside from co-writing one commentary that used the one time zone curiosityas a lead-in. For me, though, it was a very fine example of smart and accessible journalism, which effectively mixed on-the-spot anecdotes (I particularly like the interchange with the young boy who looked at the foreigner’s watch) and analysis on the fly with queries put to just the right academic experts.